Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

It is interesting how some are going back to the old hymns. In a church that has mainly young folk in Sydney, the person in charge of music told me that they only sing Amazing Grace and And Can It Be. No other old hymn is worth singing, he said.

But he admitted that the young people sang those hymns more lustily than all the modern ones.

A couple of years later, he is now enthusiastically using some of the old warhorses and the people are loving it.

I have lots of old hymnbooks, but I am shy about using some of the hymns I love, because I think people might think them too old-fashioned, too sentimental or too hard to understand.

We did not sing God Moves in a Mysterious Way when I was young, though I was aware of it.

But I got hooked on it listening to John Piper preach on it in his sermons on Ruth. One Sunday morning I used it, with a nice new tune from Sovereign Grace Music and got roundly criticised, because it was too hard to understand. But I think it has magnificent truths in it.

I sometimes think that instead of setting old hymns to new music, we should write new hymns expressing those grand truths in 21st century language.

David McKay

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Moron clapping: whoops! More on clapping.

Sydney Morning Herald Letters to the Editor Thursday, 22nd January, 2009
Mind the claptrap

Manny Ax and Sam Allis are on the money ("Concert pianist with an ax to grind", January 21). Of course we should clap after a stirring moment in a piece of classical music, just as we do after a great sax solo in a jazz concert. Who cares if it is not the official end of the piece?

David McKay Bathurst

I was taught that the pauses between movements were to give the audience an opportunity to applaud, despite what all the rich snobs thought.

David Murphy Campbelltown

Sydney Morning Herald Letters to the Editor Friday, 23rd January, 2009
Sit on your hands, you goose

Shut up and wait until the piece is over (Letters, January 22). Enough is ruined already by fools who just want to clap. The finale of the Trout Quintet is regularly interrupted because there is a bar-and-a-half of silence after a loud passage, and some goose decides to applaud. The despairing opening to the finale of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony is amplified immeasurably by the raucous conclusion of the scherzo preceding it - at least it is when the audience refrains from inserting a two-minute clapping cadenza between the movements. What next? How about that big gap in the middle of Barber's Adagio For Strings - there's plenty of time for an ovation there.

Perhaps applause freaks such as Manny Ax should put themselves at the service of the music instead of wanting things the other way around. Just because no one is playing, doesn't mean there is no music.

Graeme Gee Telopea

David McKay (Letters, January 22), if you feel like clapping after a stirring moment in a piece of classical music, buy the CD or download it and don't attend the live concert. Then you can clap with impunity without disturbing other members of the audience, most of whom prefer to listen without your ad lib percussion solo.

Jeremy Lysaght Drummoyne

Those who are adamant about applauding between movements are more than welcome to do so, at the Andre Rieu concert of their choice.

Marcus Coleman Kingston (ACT)

Saturday, 24th January, 2009
The clap never bothered Mozart

The stuffy and arcane attitude of some writers towards clapping after movements is out of tune with the expectations of composers (Letters, January 23). Beethoven expected that after a stirring movement the audience would rise to its feet and applaud, and they frequently did. Mozart wrote to his father: "Right in the middle of the first allegro came a passage I knew would please, and the entire audience was sent into raptures - there was a big applauding moment . . . I was so delighted . . ."

It was only in the 20th century that this spontaneity was discouraged. These snobby attitudes and the labelling of perpetrators as fools discourage casual and youthful concert goers. Most musicians and conductors welcome this display of appreciation.

How can we expect children to embrace classical music when this analytical and detached attitude puts the structure of the music above the spontaneity and harmony between the orchestra and audience? Bring on the clapping.

Elizabeth Maher Bangor

It took a day or two for the aficionados to wake up to what was going on, but there they were in all their thundering majesty yesterday, tongue-lashing the impudent premature applauder with words such as "fool" and "goose", and suggesting these people remain in their living rooms. I was so impressed that I started to clap before I read the final letter.

Geoff Baldwin Drummoyne

I applaud people applauding inopportunely at concerts. I take fiendish delight in waiting for applause at the pause in the William Tell Overture, so I can turn to the audience and say "Fooled ya!", before continuing. Let's applaud the fact that people want to show their appreciation - a bit like laughing at a good joke before the punchline because the joke was being told so well.

Greg Ellsmore conductor, Coffs Harbour City Orchestra, Sandy Beach

First the critics find Christopher Wheeldon's ballet for dummies condescending; now the music police tell the great unwashed when not to applaud. Sorry for coming.

Ken Cullen Bathurst

Graeme Gee (Letters January 23), obviously those refraining from applause at times when no one is playing music are the philosophers, attuned to the sound of falling trees in distant forests.

Megan Brock Summer Hill

Thursday, January 22, 2009

However ...

We attended Angela Hewitt's wonderful performances of J S Bach's Well-tempered Clavier, in which she played Book 1 [24 preludes and fugues] completely from memory on Thursday evening, and then Book 2 on Saturday arvo, with the book open, but never once referred to, she divided them up into groups of four, with an interval after the first twelve.

When she took her glass of water after each group of four, and collected her thoughts, we certainly did not clap. We only clapped after all twelve. But, did we ever clap!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I love these wise words from Emanuel Ax about applauding.

I hate the way some people use strict rules about clapping in a snobby way.

I also liked Sam Allis' piece Concert Pianist with an axe to grind in the Sydney Morning Herald on the topic today.

MY Piano Teachers

I first learnt from the sweet and soft Joy Walton at Melody Lodge, Belmont, then from the very strict Eileen Keeley, and finally from the wonderful Neta Maughan.

Mrs Walton taught me the basics and taught a nervous little boy that music, and especially piano playing, is fun.

Miss Keeley taught me that it is important to be accurate and that the fingering is there for a reason!

Miss Maughan, my wife's piano teacher, was my teacher for my last years of piano lessons. She, along with my wife, taught me to play musically and not just accurately.

All *four* teachers were very important for my musical development.


Do you use Grove? I'm jealous of those who can access it electronically without having to pay $US295 or 200 pounds per year, as we have to in Australia. But I should count my blessings, because a friend who used to work for MacMillans provided us with a copy of the 10 volume 5th paperback edition at half price post free in the 70s, then gave us an imperfect but perfectly serviceable copy of the 20 volume New Grove [1980 edition] in the 90s, and last week gave us a brand new copy of the 29 volume second edition of New Grove. We would never have been able to afford the $AUS 2000 the first edition was priced at here, and certainly not the $AUS 7000 for the second. As I hold a volume in my hands, I reflect on the fact that each of the 29 volumes is worth over $200!

Although hypertext linking has greatly enhanced using multivolume works electronically, there is still something about a book, I think.

It has been interesting to wade through the prefaces and introductory material and see how complicated making a work like this must be. There were thousands of contributors and over 100 editors, consultants, proof readers and admin staff. It has 21 million words and 29,000 articles.

This is a far cry from the 4 volume work published by Sir George Grove in 1879. In those days his dictionary only began with the Renaissance in 1450 and he deliberately excluded all investigations into the music of barbarous nations!

The New Grove, in contrast, even includes us barbarous Aussies! I'm hoping to use it as a resource this year when I take my U3A Music Appreciation class through some of our own music.

I love this new second edition, but will miss some of the great articles in the first edition: I notice that the article on St Augustine, for example, is quite different. We don't have the room for 49 volumes, and so I must part with the 1980 edition. I will certainly miss Volume two of the first edition, because I loved its title Back to Bolivia! Who would have thought there was a composer called Back?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bravery and persistence award

I have always been annoyed by Region Coding of dvds. Although I understand the theory that a company doesn't want people in say, Australia to be able to buy a dvd of a film that has not yet been released here by purchasing it over the internet, it seems to me that so many people have access to pirated copies that this plan is not successful. Also, so many people seem to either have multiregion dvd players or to know how to dezone them ... except this little black duck.

We've had a dvd player for about 7 years, but have not been able to play the odd dvd that is Region 2 [basically UK] or Region 1 [USA]. And if we had bought a dvd over the net from overseas, we couldn't be sure it would play on our Region 4 [Australia] player.

Until today, that is. I have had instructions on how to dezone my player but have never been successful in doing it. I've tried and given up several times. Today, I read and re-read the instructions and persisted.

Each time I tested it, I got the message Check Region Code, but I kept at it. And eventually, we have a dezoned player [at least I hope I haven't set it so that I can now only watch two dvds!]

In November, a friend loaned me a copy of Christopher Hogwood's book on Handel and his dvd of Messiah, with Emma Kirkby, Simon Preston and the Academy of Ancient Music. But when we tried to play it, we got the dreaded Check Region Code.

It is wonderful to be able to watch it at last. The performances are excellent, though the sound quality does not seem to be quite as good as in the Australian version of Messiah with Anthony Walker, Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, which was recorded over twenty years later.

This region coding is somewhat akin to websites which advertise free magazines or recordings, and get you all excited and then have a disclaimer at the bottom:
Only for USA residents.

Cleo and Jimmy

Sometimes When We Touch is one of our favourite recordings, which we used to have on a gramophone record and today received on a CD. People often say LPs sounded better than CDs, but this CD makes the music sound much clearer and without the pops and crackles.

We bought it after our daughter Cathy taught her 3 year old son Jerome to sing Skylark, which is one of the beautiful tracks on this CD. It is one of Hoagy Carmichael's very best songs and Sir John Dankworth's arrangement for his wife Cleo Laine and flutist James Galway is superb.

We love every track and have just finished listening to it for the third time today.

I note that the CD [and I think the LP] have Henry Bishop's Lo, here the gentle lark misspelled as HEAR the gentle lark, but this is not correct if you read the original by Shakespeare:
Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast
The sun ariseth in his majesty;
Who doth the world so gloriously behold
That cedar-tops and hills seem burnish'd gold.

Venus salutes him with this fair good-morrow:
'O thou clear god, and patron of all light,
From whom each lamp and shining star doth borrow
The beauteous influence that makes him bright,
There lives a son that suck'd an earthly mother,
May lend thee light, as thou dost lend to other.'

However, Cleo sings the first line several times at the end, and I think it is meant to be
Lo, hear the gentle lark
Now, was this a mistake of hers or her husband's, or was it deliberate?

The White Horse Inn

Sometimes it is hard to find things by Googling, though you often eventually get there. When I was in 4th class primary school, 1962 to be precise, we had a great teacher called Mr Warburton. He played the piano after a fashion, and taught us some great songs, including Lazybones, I am the very model of a modern major general and Goodbye from The White Horse Inn.

It took a bit of doing to find the lyrics, because I thought the song was called The White Horse Inn, but I also got distracted with restaurants, hotels and also Michael Horton and Kim Reddlebarger's excellent website.

I eventually found the lyrics linked with Andre Rieu ... but guess I'm of the same vintage.

I see that this is one of those songs you aren't supposed to like. [You're not sposed to like Mr Rieu, either, are you!] But I love it. It is a great stirring song. Don't mind a bit of corn, now and again.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Being for the benefit of ...

... Ian Anderson?

Benefit has to be my favourite Jethro Tull album, probably because it is the only one I've ever owned! I think my brother and I bought Benefit together. I know I have not had a copy for at least the past 30 years.

My son went through a Tull phase, and I did get to hear Aqualung and several other albums, but Benefit is the one I played over and over.

The remastered supercheap CD sounds great! Don't remember the LP sounding this good, but don't tell anybody, because us oldies are all suppsoed to say the records sounded better. Rubbish!

It is a great boon to have the lyrics accessible on the internet. I could never make them all out. [So that's what he sings in Son!]
Cup of Wonder has the lyrics and interesting annotations thereon.

Other great albums from that era include Elton John's eponymous album and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Deja Vu.